A Conversation with Jason Cook
Lori Hettler interviews Fiddleblack editor and audiobook publisher Jason Cook.
Continuing our celebration of Audiobook Appreciation Month, Lori Hettler sits down with JASON COOK, the founding editor of Fiddleblack, a literary journal, publisher of indie books, podcast, and line of audiobooks. Jason holds an MFA from Goddard College and lives near Cleveland, Ohio.
Lori Hettler: I have to ask … Do people ever confuse you for the now-defunct Fiddleback?
JASON COOK: This happened a few times back in 2011. No one officially acknowledged the similarity in names, and to be honest, it was never much of an issue for us. In fact, I reached out to Jeff Simpson last year to see if he wanted a hand in archiving his journal after it was closed.
I’m not a big fan of spiders. I hated visiting their website because of that big ole nasty thing hanging out in the corner there. If you could pick an animal mascot for Fiddleblack, what would it be?
Very James Lipton. I’m not sure that’s possible. I’ve never given Fiddleblack’s brand any sort of mascot or mark, even. There was a kind of wheat chaff icon once, and now there is occasionally a suburban kind of house. I think that’s about as close as we’ll get.
How’d you land on the name?
I was away visiting family, thinking through this whole concept in 2010. August, I think. Totemist was actually the first iteration before, a few drafts later, I settled on Fiddleblack, partly as a bastardized landmark name from the area I was in and partly just because I liked the ring of it.
Fiddleblack dabbles in many literary formats — print books, journal, podcast, audiobook. Which format is your favorite, as a publisher and as a reader?
The journal format, as we do it, entirely online, is really the most fun. It’s easy to do layout. Melissa does wonders with finding the right submissions, and I enjoy the art direction. It’s always exciting to hit social media with something so portable, and, in this format, the writers are usually pretty excited to help get the word out. And there’s no money involved — that’s a considerable plus.
Which format is the most challenging for Fiddleblack?
Podcast is easily the most challenging format. It’s tough to produce enough content to retain the sort of regularity that an average “podcast listener” expects. If there were another popular term for what we do in terms of serialized audio, I’d adopt it in a second. Otherwise, I feel we’re always a bit behind.
How do you decide which books you will publish in print and which books you will take on as audio?
A lot of the energy comes from Dane Elcar. He’s really the producer behind Fiddleblack. I make the final decisions, but all of our audio projects began as ideas of his. I think, if I had to put it to process, I’d say that there are some of our own books that have good potential for narration, as well as some books that we’re only able to access through subsidiary rights.
How do you think audio compares to the original text?
It’s a different experience. I tend to view books-into-films in the same manner. There’s never going to be a perfect translation, not without a significant budget, and yet the alternate experience that comes from the adaptation can be better or worse or just right.
I agree that it becomes an alternate experience. I read Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men back in January 2014, and fell incredibly hard for his writing. That book literally left me breathless. Then, quite recently, I listened to your audio version of the book. Dane’s interpretation of the text made it feel like a completely different story. So, why Dane Elcar?
Dane is a talented narrator and wonderful person. His first recording with us, a first-person piece in the voice of a murderer, is chilling. His intonation and inflection in that piece have stuck with Melissa and me, and we’re proud to have him working so closely on our audiobooks and podcast.
What is your dream text-and-narrator combo?
Paul Giamatti reading Dennis Cooper’s Frisk. Giamatti is never off-point as far as I’m concerned. Frisk is a small, woozy, and unsettling read that I fondly remember barreling through in one stint, walking up and down High Street in Columbus, Ohio. Pairing the two would be downright filthy.
Of course I just searched Paul Giamatti on Audible. Gasp! He read A Scanner Darkly. Although I really loved that book (and the movie), I’m not sure I’d want to listen to it. How about you? Are there books that you’ve read but won’t listen to, or listened to but won’t read?
You should reconsider the Giamatti/Dick audiobook. He does a fine reading of A Scanner Darkly. I enjoyed the audio adaptation more than the Linklater film version.
I generally avoid any Cormac McCarthy adaptations. McCarthy’s work influenced me a great deal at a time when I’d previously only considered the transgressive stuff to be holy. I think my introduction to McCarthy (via John McManus) enhanced my perspective of what literature could mean to me from a metaphysical perspective.
What would you be doing right now if you hadn’t founded Fiddleblack?
I suppose I’d be a little more focused on music and a little sore over the fact that I’d have an idle MFA in your scenario. Fiddleblack is my primary creative outlet and a huge part of who I am as a creative and intellectual. I’m not sure I’d be interested in touting either of those personal labels without it.
What are your —
Biggest pet peeves within the publishing industry? It’s hard for me really to point a finger at the publishing industry alone — All of art’s business industries seem the same. Stylistic trends are a little annoying. Most things dramatically political are annoying to me.
Favorite publishers to read? I don’t have a favorite, I don’t think. n+1 has always been cool.
Guilty pleasure books/authors? Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was invigorating. I’m not sure if that’s really a guilty pleasure, but since it’s a comic book and not straight lit, I’ll commit to the statement. On that note, I’ve been working through the Dark Horse Presents … series from the start for over a year now. This was something I noted into a now-excised blog post when Fiddleblack had a conventional blog, and it’s amusing to think that I’m still trying to finish it.
Favorite places to kick back? Home! I’m fortunate enough to be able to live like a shut-in.
Least favorite questions to be asked during an interview? I’ve been through the “what is antipastoralism/concept horror?” questions enough now that I hope the answers are readily available. Still, I have no problem discussing the definitions if the questions come up.
Interview originally published on 6/30/15.